False Economy: A Surprising Economic History of the World

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A "provocative...persuasive" (The New York Times) book that examines countries' economic destinies.

In False Economy, Alan Beattie weaves together the economic choices, political choices, economic history, and human stories, that determine whether governments and countries remain rich or poor.

He also addresses larger questions about why they make the choices they do, and what those mean for the future of our global economy. But despite the ...

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False Economy: A Surprising Economic History of the World

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Overview

A "provocative...persuasive" (The New York Times) book that examines countries' economic destinies.

In False Economy, Alan Beattie weaves together the economic choices, political choices, economic history, and human stories, that determine whether governments and countries remain rich or poor.

He also addresses larger questions about why they make the choices they do, and what those mean for the future of our global economy. But despite the heady subject matter, False Economy is a lively and lucid book that engagingly and thought-provokingly examines macroeconomics, economic topics, and the fault lines and successes that can make or break a culture or induce a global depression. Along the way, readers will discover why Africa doesn't grow cocaine, why our asparagus comes from Peru, why our keyboard spells QWERTY, and why giant pandas are living on borrowed time.

 

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Editorial Reviews

Justin Moyer
Pop social science…is tricky. Authors risk sacrificing the intricacies of a scholarly discipline in the service of reader-friendly anecdotes. But Alan Beattie…resists this kind of reduction in False Economy, a thorough examination of economies from the age of empire to the age of the IMF…Beattie's analysis dazzles with particulars
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Financial Times world trade editor Beattie combines economic history, psychology and political analysis to identify the factors that predispose economies to sickness or health. The author takes a human interest, Freakonomics-style approach to such economic riddles as why Islamic nations stay mired in poverty (he argues that one reason might be the Qur'an's dictum against usury and interest-earning) and why Africa is dependent on exporting raw materials rather than commercial products (soaring temperatures and shoddy infrastructure). Beattie imbues economics with wonderful mystery as he untangles the mechanisms of the blood diamond trade and Peru's curious stranglehold on the global export of asparagus. Closer to home, Beattie examines the economic rivalry between Argentina and the United States a century ago; when Argentina seemed to be winning, the U.S. made a series of crucial decisions, moved forward and left Argentina poised for financial disaster. Thorough research, eclectic examples and a sprightly tone ("Puritans were not big on bling") should make this a hit among those interested in world economics-and a must-read alternative for those who couldn't get through Guns, Germs and Steel. (Apr.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
Free markets are born of free societies. So why are our markets no longer free? Bad choices were made—therein lies the nub of Financial Times world trade editor Beattie's excursus into economic history..Progress, warns the author, is "fragile and reversible," and there are no inevitabilities involved: Capitalism is neither intrinsically bound to fail nor predestined to succeed; the United States is not wealthy because of exceptionalism, Africa poor because of some sort of original sin. All these conditions turn on choices, some freely made, some made by custom and even accident. For instance, Beattie notes, in the 19th century Argentina had the opportunity to be as wealthy as the United States, with plenty of resources and land and millions of cows with which to feed a hungry Europe. What kept it from emerging as a major power was its rigid adherence to class and caste, with illiterate immigrants doing grunt work while the children of the aristocracy basked. Meanwhile in America, upward mobility was standard. Beattie writes that globalization is nothing new. The late-19th and early-20th-century market was global too, so that wheat farmed in Nebraska cost about as much in London as it did in Chicago and currencies were valued fairly evenly. There are many elements that fuel economic failures: inefficiencies and excessive waste, retreats from globalism, structural impediments (for example, it takes coffee beans a month to get across Africa, held up at one customs stand after another) and corruption. All these figure prominently in Beattie's lucid exposition, which is often pleasingly arch, as when he likens a longshoreman's union agitating against containerization to "banditscontrolling the mountain pass.".A readable, timely discussion of the world economic system.
The Barnes & Noble Review
It may make you feel better to read Financial Times journalist Alan Beattie describing how nothing in economic history is inevitable or permanent. Though he spends little time dwelling on our current economic woes, Beattie chronicles where successful economies diverged, how politics meddled in free markets, and when observers have drawn false conclusions. In a history peppered with witty British asides, Beattie succinctly illustrates the curse Steinbeck probed in The Pearl -- namely, that coveted natural resources are often more trouble than they're worth. Cases in point: Dutch tulip exporters were among the legions of workers who could no longer compete in the global economy once the discovery of oil reserves made their country's currency strong enough to price Dutch products out of the market; prostitution and drug addiction ensnare mining communities from Africa to Latin America; and to top it all off, corrupt leaders mismanage prized resources for their own immediate gain, rendering those resources a scourge to some previously diversified economies. After debunking the notion that Islam is anathema to wealth creation (as some pundits claimed after September 11, 2001, attempting to explain the appeal of terrorism), Beattie takes you to the local supermarket to unravel how anti-drug policies got us dependent on Peruvian asparagus. Peru benefited from a 1991 trade deal intended to incentivize farmers to grow crops other than coca for cocaine. Lower tariffs and financial assistance, rooted in a social reform agenda, are what made Peru into Asparagus Central, much to the dismay of U.S. farmers, who have found it hard to compete. In the end, you're left with the assertion that no superpower is destined to stay that way forever, unless of course, superlative decisions prevail. In other words: Godspeed, developed world. --Ariana Green
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594488665
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 4/16/2009
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.34 (w) x 9.22 (h) x 1.14 (d)

Meet the Author

Financial Times and author of the bestselling False Economy, Alan Beattie writes about economic globalization, trade, development, and aid. Before joining the Financial Times, he was an economist at the Bank of England. He holds degrees from the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge in history and economics, respectively. He lives in Washington, DC.

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Table of Contents

Preface 1

1 Making Choices: Why Did Argentina Succeed And The United States Stall? 5

2 Cities: Why Didn't Washington, D.C., Get The Vote? 47

3 Trade: Why Does Egypt Import Half Its Staple Food? 79

4 Natural Resources: Why Are Oil And Diamonds More Trouble Than They Are Worth? 109

5 Religion: Why Don't Islamic Countries Get Rich? 139

6 Politics Of Development: Why Does Our Asparagus Come From Peru? 173

7 Trade Routes And Supply Chains: Why Doesn't Africa Grow Cocaine? 211

8 Corruption: Why Did Indonesia Prosper Under A Crooked Ruler And Tanzania Stay Poor Under An Honest One? 247

9 Path Dependence: Why Are Pandas So Useless? 281

10 Conclusion: Our Remedies Oft In Ourselves Do Lie 315

Acknowledgments 331

Selected Bibliography and Notes 333

Index 343

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 9 of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 20, 2009

    False Economy, a worthwhile read

    Alan Beattie's work, False Economy: A Surprising Economic History of the World, is an interesting and authoritative work that tries to explain why some countries are economically successful, while others fail. As the title implies, he relies heavily on historical data to support his main thesis that both successful & failed economies do not occur as a result of a single event, but are the result of an accumulation of a series of policies over time. Perhaps the most interesting presentation was the economic history comparison between Argentina & the US, who began at approximately the same economic level slightly more than a hundred years ago, but today, are totally different. Some of his supporting arguments are not new, but are based upon traditional economic and developmental theories. The book has several other interesting analysis, such as the differences in success between Indonesia & Tanzania, and why don't Islamic countries get rich? Overall, an informative and timely book.

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